FROM a cultural standpoint, Zimbabweans in the last year have evolved into some kind of wonderful!
The Mugabe years were times in which fear reigned supreme. The “second republic”, though just as deadly, has not been welcomed with as much awe. Perhaps it is because suddenly our people realised that nothing is forever. That kingdoms shake and crumble. Mugabe is gone but the apparatus remains in place. But I digress.
The power of narratives
I want this week to explore the power of narratives in political discourse. My trigger for this week’s installment was really the leaked voice note attributed to Morgen Komichi (pictured) of the MDC-T in the wake of his party’s dismal showing at the recent polls. It was between Komichi and one of his party members discussing the results. Komichi basically admits that the people or electorate rejected them and that they needed to face that reality and maybe do a post mortem to establish the reason for the rejection.
Somehow, one gets the feeling that while recommending that course of action, Komichi is aware of the reason why the voters punished them. It is obvious to him as it is to the electorate that the moment his party was perceived as a surrogate of the ruling Zanu PF, the voters could not wait to deal with that party at the ballot.
Yes, the self-styled opposition outfit failed to garner a single council or parliamentary seat. The state-assisted heist of the opposition role came to a juddering end. And yes they still huff and puff as if they still have a platform, but it is illusory. The story of the MDC-T is a story that really and truly ended the moment Morgan Tsvangirai died. The protagonist left the stage replete with jostling contenders and, ultimately, something had to give.
Most people in politics do not appear to appreciate the role of storytelling. None more so than MDC-T. For national chairperson Komichi to say that he has no clue as to why his party performed dismally in the 26 March by-elections is reality bending. The party lacked credibility and public trust over the recalls of opposition legislators from parliament. In the leaked audio while speaking to a person only identified as Mukucha, who is also a member of the MDC-T, Komichi said:
“The truth of the matter is that the people rejected MDC, to them MDC is no longer a party, MDC is just a puppet of Zanu. Even if you add the votes won by MDC and Zanu in areas that were won by CCC, our combined votes are less than those garnered by CCC…”
The 26 March vote should mark the political end of a rag tag band of politicians who must face the ignominy of having betrayed the opposition. How does one resurrect themselves from such a fate? What indeed was the motive of the Mwonzoras and the Khupes in executing the recalls? Did they seriously expect the electorate to pat them on the back? Either they drank too much of their own brew or they have some of the biggest egos in the history of African
politics. Again, the prescient words of Bob Marley’s song Zimbabwe ring true. “Soon we’ll find out who is the real revolutionaries and I don’t want my people to be tricked by mercenaries.” I recall Jamwanda2 (George Charamba) on his Twitter handle chiding Mwonzora and saying words to the effect that he should eat with his mouth shut! So many clues out there…
The other side
Last year, while appearing on the #MaimaneMondays show, which discusses democratic developments unfolding in Africa, Chamisa was able to cast himself as the victim of treachery and referred to his onetime colleague Douglas Mwonzora and other former senior opposition politicians who have openly joined Zanu-PF or the MDC-T led by Mwonzora as bad apples.
From early 2020, Chamisa lost several senior party officials, including MPs to the ruling Zanu-PF or the MDC-T, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court which found against Chamisa as the rightful leader of the MDC-T. Among them were stalwarts including Komichi, Elias Mudzuri, Mwonzora, Lillian Timveous, Blessing Chebundo, Tapiwa Mashakada, Paurina Mpariwa, Solomon Mguni and Tongai Matutu.
“We understand that we have been affected by what Mr. Mnangagwa has been doing, but, thank God, Mr Mnangagwa has done a fantastic thing for us,” quipped Chamisa. “He has managed to reorganise us (MDC-Alliance) by taking away from us the bad elements and bad apples and bad elements. All dictatorships thrive on the appetite and greed of the oppressed and the vulnerabilities of those who are active in politics.”
Effectively, Chamisa was able to frame the discourse of victimhood. He emerged as the underdog and the public always roots for the underdog. Helped in no small part by the work and writings of the likes of Alex Magaisa and Hopewell Chin’ono, Chamisa had it made and Douglas Mwonzora was the villain of the peace.
It did not help matters that Mwonzora claimed the proprietary rights to the MDC moniker just before the elections, perhaps hoping that this would be the death knell for Chamisa’s political aspirations. On the very cusp of the deadline for registration of parties for the by-elections, Chamisa registered the Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) effectively birthing a new political phenomenon.
The seeming juggernaut
The nascent party was soon on the campaign trail unleashing in its wake the sort of excitement that attends a pop culture icon. I attended at least one rally out of sheer curiosity. I had a front seat at the White City Stadium rally in Bulawayo.
I arrived early around 11am with colleagues in the profession. I wanted to get a feel of the sentiment and mood. Young and old, they trickled in at first. Latterly, the stadium was near capacity and people were still coming as Chamisa was addressing the crowd. My assessment was that he was on message. He addressed the key concerns of people in the region: the Gukurahundi issue, industrial revival, the Ndebele monarchy question, unemployment, devolution. I had watched some of his rallies and felt that the messaging had been too off-the-cuff and not tackling substantive issues.
Messaging in strategic communications
Politicians need to grasp that strategic communications is anchored on persuasion. But one must be able to establish what the audience’s concerns are before constructing their speeches. Research is important in this regard.
Politicians in their usual hubris like to narrate their political histories or flaunt their struggle credentials. Do people “eat” struggle credentials? Zimbabweans need a clear message around the managing of the country’s resources. They understand that the country is well endowed but that an incompetent cabal thinks nothing of pillaging the economy for selfish ends. Zimbabweans want to hear from politicians who speak to accountability and transparency in the handling of public coffers.
The social contract between those that govern and the governed is broken. There is a palpable trust deficit. The narrative about some people having liberated the country ring hollow with the extrajudicial killings of political opponents and the apparent lawlessness.
When the constitution is eviscerated through some dubious pieces of legislation, is that not lawlessness? The public needs the sense that law enforcement officers are fully conversant with the constitution and do all in their power to uphold it… Somehow, this is not always the case as the default setting of the law enforcement agents is resorting to laws which cannot stand the test of the sonstitution.
Storytelling in strategic communications
The story of Zimbabwe’s political transition is a difficult one and its unraveling in November 2017 with the military coup which even the late leader of the opposition MDC t helped sanitise ostensibly because he was convinced that the demise of Mugabe would usher in a new political order. Perhaps in the guise of a transitional authority involving different stakeholders.
Naively so. But Tsvangirai was not alone in having believed whatever story the coup organisers was selling to the role players. The late Dumiso Dabengwa was among them. I recall talking to him after it became clear that they had all been sold a dummy. Zanu PF is an experienced salesman of moonshine. Underestimate their ability to spin yarns at your own peril. It is a skill they perfected during the war of liberation with all art and artifice. I know from experience.
Though many naively believed that a regime change outside of the electoral system was a good idea, I was one of the few that called it differently in publication writing under the same editor as this paper. I knew that the euphoria would not last long.
It was the strangest of moments. I was relieved Mugabe was gone. But not this way. History is replete with such tales of coups that go awry and African post-colonial history is a hotbed of such tales. 2017 was the year of the great heist. A lot of people were duped by the coup which was cannily handled by the junta.
The public face of that coup was the late Lieutenant-General Sibusiso Moyo and he made a compelling case throughout the period that the coup plotters were really targeting the criminals around Mugabe. They continued to address him as His Excellency till the day he was forced to resign. The world was dumbfounded and transfixed by the episode. The regime even branded itself “second republic” which for all intents and purposes and to the extent that it regularly violates the constitution with various pieces of legislation, is a misnomer.
The story of Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe was won after a protracted struggle. But it was really not just Zanu that waged the war. There was Zapu and of course the masses who supported the combatants in spirit and in kind. The Zimbabwean story cannot and should not be monopolised by one political formation. What is lost in the fog of politics is the sheer desire for freedom which led the ordinary citizens of this country to be involved in the struggle.
The freedom fighters sold us the narrative that they wanted a majoritarian democracy, land and self-determination. It was an irresistible message for a people who had suffered under a minority government led by Ian Smith. His exclusionary policies meant that the majority had to toil in poverty while just a few ate on behalf of everyone else. 42 years down the line, the plight of millions who subscribed to the liberation struggle is worse off.
The land question is unresolved and remains a mirage. There is still no security of tenure for resettled people. What is the justification? The narrative of sanctions can best be described in this vein: correlation is not causation. How can anyone explain away the Auditor-General’s reports over the past decade or so? What is the actual quantum of the financial prejudice to the economy of the graft and mismanagement in comparison to what the famous sanctions may have inflicted?
Personally, I found it stupefying how at one point last year the government was celebrating the awarding of close to US$1 billion in Special Drawing Rights by the International Monetary Fund to Zimbabwe. Juxtapose that development with the revelation in 2020 by Finance minister Mthuli Ncube of the fact that the country was losing close to US$100 million monthly through gold smuggling.
This is the same year the current president of the Zimbabwe Miners’ Federation, Henrietta Rushwaya, was apprehended while attempting to smuggle six kilogrammes of gold bullion to Dubai. How many other times had she passed through that airport carrying similar contraband?
Subsequent to that incident, one of her acolytes was caught at OR Tambo International Airport in South Africa carrying 12 kilogrammes of gold. He was of course arrested. The country continues to hemorrhage from these illicit and treacherous acts. But so does the pontification about patriotism and sanctions. People have to suspend all logic and uncritically accept the sanctions mantra. Who are they fooling?
The patriotism narrative
Patriotism, I propose, does not imply partisanship. The idea that a citizen does not use the ruling party or CCC song book does not in itself invalidate the value of their ideas. We need a new ethic around how our society is set up. The political culture currently obtaining is stupid. The Zimbabwean constitution is in my view the greatest approximation of Zimbabwe’s vision of society.
It is a people’s document and there is really no need to cast a new vision of our country apart from the one the constitution holds. We do not need partisan documents because parties come and go. True patriotism is best built upon transcendent values of liberty, freedom, accountability and democracy. Putting partisan or factional interests ahead of national interests is stupid and myopic.
It otherises others and excludes from the national brain trust, people who could ably contribute to the progress of our great nation. I submit that the nation during the Gukurahundi genocide lost thousands of people who could have potentially helped build Zimbabwe. More recently, under Mugabe, the government then, introduced the STEM initiative. What happened to it?
Do we have no more need for STEM graduates? Just last week the director of communications in the ministry of Primary and Secondary and Education announced that the country has an acute shortage of STEM teachers.
What happens in the minds of our leaders? Why was the STEM initiative suspended if it is not because of pettiness and political vindictiveness? The collateral damage of such parochial interests is citizens and especially our children. One of fundamental problems with Zanu PF is its pettiness and mediocrity. There is hardly a single monument to black excellence 42 years after Independence. Show me one.
That China is an ally of this government is a matter of history insofar as the armed liberation struggle is concerned. In my view, China has bettered most nations through its diligence and industry in economic administration.
Sadly, the spirit of excellence which attends its own economic management efforts has not been imitated by its client nations in most of Africa. Zimbabwe is currently an example of a dream gone awry by most measures. The retrogression in infrastructure terms is sustained by buck-passing narratives.
Even when one looks at Russia, another of this country’s allies, its oligarchs are clearly helping the nation reestablish its industry and superpower status. What do our own oligarchs spend energy on? This is the indictment. Zimbabwe will change when our leaders begin to tell themselves and the nation at large new and more credible stories.